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COLLINGWOOD SHALE FACTORY

Canada’s first commercial, unconventional oil project was first referred to as the Collingwood Shale Factory.  It was uncovered by accident in 1857-1858 (exact date unknown) when local limestone quarrymen left their campfire burning and returned to see the rock beneath the stone lined fire pit on fire, burning away.  Along with this discovery and the unpopularity of kerosene and coal gas, Pollard McDonald & Company was formed to develop the shale oil project.  1859 saw the patent of the destructive distillation process using cast-iron retorts to extract the oil from the bituminous shale rock. 

The processing facilities included the quarry site, a logging operation, 24 distillation retorts, an engine room for steam power, blacksmith and carpenter shops, and a stillroom for the rectifying process.  Also located on the premises, was a bunkhouse and kitchen for 100 men.   The initial product was popular as it emitted a more pleasant odour, burned brighter and longer and cost 1/3 less than kerosene and coal gas.  Using wagons drawn by horse, Barrels of the oil were transported to the railhead at the Collingwood Harbour, and then carried by train to the market in Toronto.   

In 1858, discovery of the Oil Springs and Petrolia of Lambton County, led to the closing of the Collingwood Shale Factory.  Conventional oil was cheaper to produce and closer to the market (Toronto), subsequently; in 1863 production of shale oil ceased in Craigleith.  All that remains of Ontario’s shale oil production, is an Ontario Heritage Foundation plaque located at the gate to the Craigleith Provincial Park, which reads:

“A growing demand for artificial light led to the establishment, in 1859, of a firm headed by William Darley Pollard of Collingwood. He erected a plant here to obtain oil through the treatment of local bituminous shales. The process, patented by Pollard, involved the destructive distillation of fragmented shale in cast-iron retorts heated by means of wood. The 30 to 35 tons of shale distilled daily yielded 250 gallons of crude oil, which was refined into illuminating and heavy lubricating oils. The enterprise, the only one of its kind in the province's history, failed by 1863. The inefficiency of its process made its products uncompetitive after the discoveries of "free" oil at Petrolia and Oil Springs, near Sarnia.”